As I write this, Thursday afternoon in Seoul, more than a full day after the 2020 United States presidential election came to a close, it remains unclear who is the winner.
The Democrats, who had largely expected a “Blue Wave” and even a landslide victory, are expressing dismay while political pundits pronounce a nation deeply divided.
When President Donald Trump won the election in 2016, despite having lost the popular vote to his rival Hillary Clinton, many were ready to see it as an aberration. That a person whose campaign pledges had shocked many for their disruptive nature was chosen to lead the country for the next four years was unpalatable. Yet, there he was.
Soon after his arrival at the White House, Trump set about implementing his anti-immigration policy in the country of immigrants. His administration saw to the country’s withdrawal from several international agreements, including the Paris climate accord. Denuclearization talks with North Korea ended going nowhere. Now, the world watches nervously as the US and China engage in a trade war.
During the Trump administration, the US saw itself deeply polarized. Some would say that the divide was already there, but no one would deny that Trump did little, if anything, to ameliorate the situation. Instead he has made the situation worse, spreading unfounded conspiracies and fears. While Trump failed to outright condemn white supremacist groups, racial tensions reached new heights, propelled by police brutality against black Americans.
Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic shows him wanting at many different levels. Throughout the health crisis that has claimed 234,000 American lives so far, Trump was seen ignoring science, dismissing experts, bending facts to his liking and spreading false information. He even promoted unproven “cures.” For all his cries of fake news against the media, he is one of the most notable promoters of fake news via his incessant tweets.
Trump’s refusal to wear a mask, scoffing at mask wearing as a sign of weakness, was incomprehensible in light of the fact that masks, worn properly, help protect the wearer and others against viral infection. Trump’s insistence on not wearing a mask until much later on in the pandemic is an example of Trump’s lack of empathy for the people he leads.
When Trump did get infected with the new coronavirus, as did his wife and son and several of his closest associates, I worried that he might recover too quickly. Trump could turn it around as proof that he had been right all along, that it was nothing, that the whole thing was a conspiracy.
My fears were not unfounded. As he returned to the White House, he told people not to be afraid of the virus and to not let it rule their lives. He even boasted that he would make the treatment he received available to all Americans. He forgets that people have died from the disease, and families and loved ones are devastated. He also forgets that the kind of treatment he received is out of reach for most people.
Even while votes were being counted in key battleground states, Trump on Wednesday claimed that the election was being stolen from him. “Frankly, we did win the election,” he said. He wanted to stop the vote counting and let the Supreme Court decide the election. In fact, the Trump campaign has already taken several cases to the courts.
For months, Trump had sought to delegitimize the election process. His motive is clear: He cannot afford to lose.
It is appalling and embarrassing to watch Trump so callously denigrate the election process, attacking the very foundation of democracy. People in many parts of the world have sacrificed their lives for the right to choose their leaders, for democracy.
Why should I lose sleep over someone else’s election? The specter of a man without a moral compass leading the US and, by default, looked to as the leader of the free world provokes anxiety and fear.
Whether we like it or not, the US wields enormous influence geopolitically and economically. What happens in the US over the next few days will have repercussions around the world. It is disheartening to watch videos of cities preparing for violent clashes. The sight of protesters at ballot counting sites, many armed with guns, fills me with sadness and anguish. What has happened to the US?
While we wait for the vote counting to be completed and the winner declared, I can only hope that the rule of law and common sense will prevail. And that the United States, called Miguk (beautiful country) in Korean, will find ways to justify that name, whoever its next leader may be.
By Kim Hoo-ran (email@example.com)
Kim Hoo-ran is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald -- Ed.